Saturday, February 15, 2014

Emily's Service Learning Experience

As part of furthering my education through Regis University, each student is required to complete service learning hours within the community to an underserved population. What better way to spend 8 hours than with children! I volunteered at Morgridge Academy, a school in Denver, that hosts 86 students grades K-8, that carry a chronic medical diagnosis. These students also come from broken homes or live at or below the poverty line. A very underserved population identified here, but what a great group of aspiring children. I started in the kindergarten class and switched back and forth into the1st grade class throughout my day there.
Personal Growth: In a small classroom with 16 children, most of who were sneezing, hacking and coughing due to viral season, I sat in a small person chair, at a small and short table, working on the alphabet with a little girl who's speech is delayed and is very behind in her learning process. While sitting and wondering how I should approach this vague task that I have been given to work with her on her letters, I began to think about her and how working with me must be different for her. I initially overestimated her ability in knowing the alphabet and memorization as I started out with spelling out simple 3 letter words. I would lay a card down with a letter on it, say the letter and she would write the letter on her white board. We eventually spelled out the words "fox", "day", and "she". I would ask her to tell me the letters that she had written down and she would not answer me. I knew then, that this was too hard of a task for her so I had to think quickly, what I could do to boost her confidence. I wanted her to feel like she was accelerating and able to do something correctly. So, I reached way back to the basics and I had her write the entire alphabet down on her white board. I would pick the letters out of the stack of cards, in order, and she would copy them onto her board. I encouraged her each letter until all 26 were accounted for and in the correct order. She then began talking and opening up to me and her teacher commented that "she has never been this interactive with anyone, not even her speech therapist, and this is the most she has heard her talk or write." That made me feel great because I had only been working with her for maybe 30 minutes. This one simple experience taught me patience. I reflected on my own learning experiences and was able to recognize the importance of connecting with a teacher or mentor and how much patience it takes to be able to teach someone. Not everyone has the patience to be a teacher and I realized, now that I am a soon to be new mom, how much patience it takes to make a difference. I was also able to appreciate the education I received and how it shaped me into who I am and the critical thinker that I am today. Education is something to be valued and not taken for granted. Working with these kids, made me appreciate how fortunate I was growing up to have such a great education and how much I want to be able to give the same, or better to my children. Since I have not been in a public school setting in quite sometime, my eyes were opened to the changes in technology that school systems have today. I had lost faith in our public education systems as I was learning about US being so far behind the rest of the world in testing scores. I now have a greater appreciation for public schools, especially the teachers within this system, who go above and beyond because they want to make a difference in the youth of today and change the face of tomorrow.
Experience in future practice: This service learning experience boosted my confidence and opened my eyes in that I can be a great teacher. It showed me that I can connect with people and that they listen to what I have to say. As a nurse, we are constantly introduced to teaching opportunities with our patients and we should really take advantage of those situations. In my practice, teaching is a daily, almost hourly event and I now, feel very confident in that the knowledge I have, I can successfully relay to my patients and if not, I know I can adapt or change strategies to get the information across to them somehow. I learned and came to appreciate an unconditional love from the teachers who strive to make each day count with not only educating children to shape their future, but chronically ill children who's time here may be limited.
Interpretation: Since recently learning about vulnerable populations, children being one of them, and those who are chronically ill, being another, I thought about how these child fall into that category. On the outside, these kids seem happy to be in a safe, warm environment that is adaptable to their learning but on the inside, we know that these kids have a hard home life. Not only do they carry a chronic medical diagnosis, such as life threatening asthma, cystic fibrosis, juvenile diabetes, and sickle cell anemia just to name a few, but they are also at risk for violence and abuse in the home. Coming from, poor broken homes puts these children at risk for neglect, physical abuse, maltreatment, lack of child supervision and psychosocial issues from a parent or other family members. As teachers, I am sure they have special training opportunities to educate them on the warning signs of abuse and what to do if they suspect something happening within the home. The teachers may be the only advocate a child may have and it is important for them to recognize warning signs. The Regis University mission focuses on giving back to the community for the betterment of society. Through education, the hope is that we can shape and set and example for the children today in that they will become good people and give back to society as good people have given back to them. As educators, mentors and nurses, we hope to instill values on children that paying it forward is rewarding and society will benefit from more people giving their time.
Evaluation: Through this experience, I hope that I left that classroom with a little bit of love and I hope I at least made a difference in one young life. Whether it was giving a child a hug, exchanging a smile and friendly "hello" or actually helping that little girl remember how to write at least one letter of the alphabet, giving back to the children was much more rewarding that I could have imagined. I know I got way more out of my experience during the day than the school got out of me. I established relationships with some of the staff who have already asked me to come back when I can and received an appreciation email form one of the teachers who admired how I worked so well with the children. In the future, this school could definitely use more volunteers to offer different bonding experiences for the children with someone new. I  will do my best to be an advocate for that and encourage others to give back to the community because the reward is such a great feeling.